Shivers race up your spine as the floatplane glides in to pick you up and take you to the middle of nowhere. Our nowhere is Lorna Lake in the Chilcotin Mountain range. British Columbia’s best-kept secret. Our route looked easy as we glided gracefully in the sky above, scoping out the passes we would traverse. They looked like anthills from our perspective. My nervousness subsided as I thought that this would be easier than I had anticipated. We banked left and approached our glassy landing strip. It looked surreal. The mirrored reflection of mountains and sky were perfectly painted on Lorna Lake. We touched down softly, sending ripples across Nature’s Picasso. Our excitement heightened as we assembled our bikes and waved goodbye to Dale Douglas as he soared off. Our ride had started. There was only one way out — ride.
Peter Dostal, Chad Onyschuk, Steve Whittal and myself started off with the normal warm-up jitters, taking turns listing our qualifications at the beginning of our ride. Onyschuk had mostly been coaching downhill all summer in Whistler and wasn’t in shape. Whittal had just finished guiding a 15-day rafting trip the day before and could have used more rest. The longest ride I had done all summer was three hours long, which would be the length of our warm-up. I had bruised ribs and a healing sprained ankle. I was genuinely concerned about this ride, but they reassured me that it would be a piece of cake. Dostal didn’t say anything. In fact, I don’t think I have ever heard him complain about a ride. Though these weren’t really complaints, but rather pre-ride excuses for any poor riding or bonking we might experience.
Normally, I am in full control of my own adventures, but I knew that it was better not to know too much about what lay ahead. Anyway, why ruin the surprise? And somehow I found strange comfort in knowing that I would not be responsible for getting us lost. I did have faith in Onyschuk’s navigation, as he had ridden this route previously and guided in this area many times, though had he brought a map, I would have felt more at ease. And on we went, hiking over rocks and through streams in search of the trail. We all knew the general direction. Up.
There’s nothing like a steep climb mixed with some hike-a-bike to get the heart pounding. The promise of endless downhill singletrack and fresh legs kept us pushing along at a good pace. In the saddle, we climbed a long drainage flanked by a stream and a breathtaking sea of wildflowers. Unfortunately, I did not stop for a photo, as I was at the back of the pack and did not want to get left behind so soon. I still regret it.
Cresting the top of Lorna Pass, we were rewarded with our first vista and the sight of sweet downhill rolling singletrack. One last look back at my lost photo opp and I jumped in the back of the lineup, leaving ample room for error. There are no gondolas, chairs or shuttles to take you to this piece of heaven. Our ride had barely started but we had to earn every bit of our downhill paradise. Our thanks went out to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation and all the history that enriched this system of trails in a visually spectacular region complete with broad valleys, ridges, mountain peaks, glaciers, alpine lakes and meadows, grasslands and flowing rivers and creeks. We took on a challenging route, but here there are plenty of routes for all levels of riders. Guides such as Erin and Ian Heintzman of Hair Straight Back Guiding (firstname.lastname@example.org) can map out your perfect adventure.
This singletrack couldn’t have been built more perfectly. It was as if it was made just for mountain bikes “” endless, flowing, twisting, turning and dipping in all the right places. Natural berms that push you through fast corners. Wide-open and full-out, I tested the limits of my courage and skill. My forearms throbbed from my death grip. But I wasn’t stopping.
We glided into the sub-alpine meadows of Tyaughton Creek and rested our sweet rides, which reeked of fresh downhill. We stretched and fueled in preparation for our longest ascent of the trip, approximately two hours of hike-a-bike and steep climbing up Deer Pass. Head down, we all traveled in our own world between pleasure and pain. There was more treasure ahead.
With screaming legs, I found myself catching up to the guys. Though, at second glance, I realized that they were taking turns attempting to conquer a steep technical upward switchback section. Dostal offered to try again when I brought out the camera. Deep down inside, selfishly but not maliciously, I hoped that this would tire them out so that I would not be straggling by myself. This was not the case.
We crested the high point of Deer Pass together and found a spot out of the wind to rest. And there we sat, amazed, watering and refueling ourselves amongst the wildflowers and vivid backdrop of the rugged Chilcotin Mountains. Emerald-green Warner Lake lay far below beneath snowcapped mountains in the distance.
It was time to reap our rewards. Down, down, down, we descended, covering ground at lightning speed. My legs found little relief, however, in their tight, flexed, ready-for-anything position. Kilometre after kilometre, this was the fastest and longest downhill run of my life. The trail became steeper yet. We had to slow down for an arm-pumping, brake-pad sizzling, extreme-surf section that I thought would never end. Stopping was near-impossible, but I had to allow distance for the dust to settle. My forearms thanked me. I prefer being padded up for technical sections like this. But that would have meant extra weight to carry and was not even a consideration for this adventure. We all flowed this trail, unscathed and smiling.
We carried on toward Hummingbird Lake, where the terrain became variable with ups and downs. The ups now seemed technical to my beaten legs. I was bonking. I struggled to find different pedaling positions to ease the cramping while I fell far behind. I unclipped and pedaled with my heels, my knees pointed outwards. This would have looked funny to anyone riding behind me, but I was alone. Incredibly, this seemed to work. I struggled through the pain until I caught up to my group who were leisurely resting by the lake. Whittal had just finished taking a soothing dip in the cool water and I was envious. It was getting late and we still had a lot of ground to cover. No rest for the slow.
The next section was flat, they assured me. But every root and rock became a painful obstacle. I had to walk the easiest sections. I was in hell.
This was the loudest silence I have ever heard. My heart thundered in my ears. I was left behind again. Luckily, we had started to descend. There was only one direction to travel as I rolled through the sweetest twisting downhill run of my life. It was endless, I hoped. I tried to enjoy it. Yet I wished it to be over when I came to rest in a twisted and sprawled-out state. An unexpected branch rolled under my front tire during a moment of bliss and sent my wheel over the edge of the trail, and me over the handlebars. I laid there in disbelief as my bike tumbled down the steep valley side. Exhausted, bleeding and now angry, I recovered my bike and tried to re-focus. It wasn’t a few minutes before a small stump jumped up and grabbed my right foot on downstroke and once more sent me in the exact flight of moments previous . . . over my handlebars. This time, I lay motionless for what seemed like 10 minutes contemplating what hurt more “” my ankle that was not fully healed from a previous injury, my bruised ribs that were now aching, my new cuts or my legs, which just wanted the ride to be over. At least the uphill sections. But on I went, and it wasn’t long before I realized that I was enjoying this ride despite my pain. Rolling, twisting, descending, on and on and on, I was back in the zone. My legs found freedom.
I finally met up with the guys, who were taking a break and apparently waiting patiently for me. They looked fresh after nine hours of riding. We fueled up for the last time and then started our final descent down Gun Creek. Magnificent, fast, flowing, the trail went on. I was in high spirits. We were altogether again and I was determined to keep it that way, as darkness would soon be approaching.
We rolled back to Mowson Pond, where we had camped the night before, to find ice-cold beer awaiting our return. Under a starry sky and beside a radiant fire, there was just one thing left in our adventure. To drink happily to our success.
Ten hours and 19 minutes of heaven and hell. I pushed the limits of my unconditioned legs . . . because there was no other choice. This ride will last forever! Or at least until I do it again next year.